Dr. Whitney Bowe is an internationally renowned dermatologist and research scientist who’s sought-after for her expertise in skin rejuvenation, laser therapies, and nutritional dermatology. She’s studied the links between nutrition, gut health, and skin extensively and details these findings in her new book. It’s aptly called: The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out.
In her book, Dr. Bowe talks in detail about the concept of “dirty skin,” noting the connections between diet, lifestyle, the microbiome, and of course, skin health. As a 40-year-old woman who constantly struggles with pimples and wrinkles, I was of course intrigued. I grilled Dr. Bowe with all my questions at her book launch party. And she gave me some great answers! Below you’ll find her answers detailing her focus on “dirty skin,” plus her 21-day skin and gut health cleanse. I’m always skeptical of these kinds of programs, but I found out that Dr. Bowe’s doesn’t require you to give up wine (hooray!). I was so intrigued by what I found out that I decided to read the book and am now considering doing the 21-day plan myself!
First off, what do you mean by “dirty skin”? Isn’t dirty skin bad?
When people read the title of my book, they immediately ask me, “Does this mean I don’t have to shower anymore?” That’s the definition of bad “dirty skin.” I shower. I advocate that my patients shower. There’s a huge difference between hygiene and nourishing your skin’s healthy microbiome (the family of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on and in your body). So, this brings us to what it means to have good “dirty skin.”
Most people don’t realize that our skin is covered with trillions of microorganisms—primarily bacteria—that are essential to healthy skin. These microbial critters (which I call your good “warrior bugs”) are part of your skin’s health and behavior. And many of them provide vital functions for your skin that the human body actually can’t perform on its own!
Now here’s the most important part: if your skin’s microbiome is off-balance, you’ll experience any number of skin issues including eczema, acne, dry skin, dull skin, and premature aging. On the other hand, if you nourish and strengthen your body’s good bugs and keep them healthy and happy, they will keep your skin healthy and happy in return. Nourishing and protecting these good bugs is at the heart of The Beauty of Dirty Skin.
What inspired you to write this book and come up with the concept of “dirty skin”?
This is a story that I share for the first time in detail in the book: When I was ten years old, I became very sick due to a bad bug, a parasite, which found its way to my intestines. My doctors were unable to identify the source of my chronic pain, and so they gave me antibiotic after antibiotic. The antibiotics wiped out the good, healthy bacteria in my digestive tract alongside the harmful bugs. I was left with a very dangerous type of bug called C. diff.
At the young age of ten, therefore, I was introduced to the concept of what we now call our microbiome. As I share in The Beauty of Dirty Skin, I learned that maintaining the health and balance of our microbiome is critical to maintaining our overall health. Once my body was strong enough to leave the hospital, I began uncovering the science behind this balance, and harnessing the strength of our bodies’ good warrior bugs became my life’s work and passion. And that’s culminated in the creation of this book.
If I have rosacea or acne-prone skin, will “dirty skin” make my skin worse?
I go into this subject in so much detail in the book. The short answer is NO. There are more than one trillion bacteria in the skin, originating from approximately one thousand different species. Our antiseptic cleansing styles and obsession with antibacterial soaps and cleansers have stripped our skin of its healthy bacteria. If your skin’s healthy microbiome is disrupted by harsh cleansers and other abrasive skincare products, this discontent results in breakouts, rosacea flares, psoriasis, eczema, and even sensitive skin.
When your good bugs are healthy, your skin is, in turn, healthy and radiant. That’s because these essential bugs fight infections, combat against environmental damage, boost our immune system, and keep our skin hydrated and radiant.
Your book includes a 21-day plan to get our gut and skin health on track. How doable is it? Most plans tell me to give up wine and I automatically fail.
Haha! Wine is ON my plan! Just turn to page 138, my friend. In fact, red wine has beauty merits when consumed in moderation—it has an anti-aging, heart-healthy, anti-cancer antioxidant called resveratrol.
My 21-day plan will require you to take a hard look at some of your daily choices, but it’s all very much doable. If I give my patients and readers an amazing plan that nobody can follow while living a hectic, busy, realistic lifestyle, that would defeat the entire purpose of the plan.
My “integrative” or comprehensive approach to dermatology means that I look at your skin within the context of your entire body’s overall health. What you put into your body has a direct impact on the health of your skin. Whether you sleep well, exercise, and take downtime to relax and restore all have a direct impact on your skin. And, of course, your skincare routine and products all contribute to whether your skin is irritated, inflamed, or prematurely aging on the one hand or glowing, healthy, smooth, and hydrated on the other. So my 21-day plan addresses all of these areas to heal your skin from the inside-out as well as from the outside-in.
I live by the plan, many of my patients live by the plan, and it works. It’s completely worth the time and energy investment because you WILL get results!
In a sentence or two, how is gut health related to skin health and aging?
The road to a beautiful glow begins with simple lifestyle habits that support the gut-brain-skin relationship. This connection is the soul of radiant, healthy skin.